“The Wood From The Trees”
HAN LEI, Luochuan, Shanbei
CHEN YIDAN, Lakeside
A search for cultural and personal identity can be found in the work of both these contemporary Chinese Photographers and it is a quest made fascinating by the differences between their ages, backgrounds and inspiration.
Born in 1967 in the ancient city of Kaifeng in Henan Province, Han Lei comes from a family that encouraged him to pursue a career in art long before there was any market for it in China. Since then he has become a well-established figure in Chinese Art circles and has exhibited in many prestigious venues.
In contrast, Chen Yidan , born in Xian in the early 1980’s, settled in France at the age of 18 to study Art, since when she has also travelled widely around Europe and North Africa and worked in a remarkable variety of jobs from teaching to farming.
While Han Lei’s Art features sculpture, installation and painting, it is his photography that most captures a sense of the “particularity” of his subject matter: the specific individuality of his portraits and the way they reflect his own very specific way of making sense of the world. It is an attention to certain details that draws him into a portrait but also repels him…As he says: “I love the process of taking the photograph, but afterwards if I look at the pictures too much, they make me feel very uncomfortable”…And this disquiet is felt by the viewer too.
In Chen Yidan’s arresting series of “Lakeside” photographs, the masks worn by her subjects conversely convey a sense that it is not our differences that distinguish our identities but rather the similarities that we recognise in each other, our common sense of loss and loneliness for our youth.
The rather unsettling lakeside scenes she creates featuring “metaphysical existences” rather than real people invite us to recognise our common experience and yet are curiously alienating too.
For Han Lei, it is the experiences we acquire that make us different, for Chen Yidan our shared experiences make us the same… but both artists affect us by the sense of unease we feel between attraction and alienation, as if suspended or “falling” between two states. Perhaps this is where Identity truly lies and why we turn to art to help us find it.